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Former soldier takes 3 hostages at Georgia hospital

- Associated Press - Monday, September 6, 2010

SAVANNAH, Ga. | A former Army soldier seeking help for mental problems at a Georgia military hospital took three workers hostage at gunpoint Monday before authorities persuaded the gunman to surrender peacefully.

Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said no one was hurt and no shots were fired in the short standoff at Winn Army Community Hospital on Fort Stewart, about 40 miles southwest of Savannah. Military officials said the hostages were able to calm the gunman and keep him away from patients until he surrendered.

The gunman was arrested by military police and was being questioned Monday afternoon. His name was not immediately released.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips, a senior Fort Stewart commander, said the former soldier was seeking help for mental problems that were "connected, I'm quite certain, to his past service."

"He hadn't gotten the care that he wanted and he wanted it now," Brig. Gen. Phillips said. "He'd had some experiences that could lead one to believe there were aftereffects to his service."

Both he and Mr. Larson declined to be more specific, citing the active investigation.

The gunman walked into the hospital's emergency room at about 4 a.m. Monday carrying four guns — two handguns, a semiautomatic rifle and a semiautomatic version of a submachine gun, Brig. Gen. Phillips said. He took a medic hostage and headed to the building's behavioral treatment wing on the third floor.

An Army psychiatric nurse on duty in the behavioral health wing spotted the gunman and approached him to talk, Brig. Gen. Phillips said. That nurse was then taken hostage along with a behavioral health technician who refused to allow the gunman through a locked door to the patient area.

Still, the nurse — an Army major — was able to start calming the gunman.

"Working together, they maintained the situation, kept the gunman out of the territory where he could harm someone else and bought time for someone else to get there," Brig. Gen. Phillips said.

Military police soon arrived and surrounded the hospital. Army investigators trained in hostage negotiations worked their way to the same floor as the gunman.

In less than two hours, they persuaded the gunman to put down his weapons and surrender.

Because the suspect is a civilian and the standoff involved hostages on a federal installation, the FBI was called in to help with the investigation. It was unclear Monday what charges the man would face.

Brig. Gen. Phillips said he'd seen nothing to indicate the former soldier had previously sought treatment at the Fort Stewart hospital. Neither he nor Mr. Larson would specify what sort of behavioral problems caused the suspect to seek treatment at gunpoint.

"He broke the law, obviously, and he threatened people" and would have to face the consequences, Mr. Larson said. "But we are going to get him the help for behavioral health."

 

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